The selection of wide receiver A.J. Jenkins with the 30th pick in the 2012 NFL draft was a surprising one. Jenkins, who was seen as a second or third rounder by draft experts, wasn't expected to be taken on day one. But the 49ers were confident in their pick and general manager Trent Baalke went as far as to say he wrote down Jenkins' name on a card before the draft. Even though the pick was unexpected and seemed like a reach, the 49ers had drafted so well under Baalke's tenure there was no reason to doubt the selection.
Shortly afterwords, news came out that the Rams had Jenkins rated very high on their board and were interested in taking him with the first pick in the second round. Baalke was looking like a genius again for getting his man and excitement about the Jenkins' pick was starting to grow. Excitement would soon turn to worry, though, as Jenkins appeared to be out of shape at the teams rookie mini camp. Questions started to arise about Jenkins' work ethic and if he could cut it in the NFL before he ever even put on pads.
When the season started, the 49ers' appeared to be deep at wide receiver. Michael Crabtree was a clear cut starter on one side, while Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, and Ted Ginn all seemed likely to see plenty of snaps as well. Jenkins role on the 2012 49ers appeared to be a developmental one. As the season progressed though, the team lost Manningham and Williams to season ending knee injuries. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to ease Jenkins onto the field and let him begin his development.
While everyone waited for the rookie to start to make an impact, it just never happened. Jenkins played in just three games during the regular season and did not record a catch. He was active for two of the teams playoff games but didn't make a reception then either. In the end, he had one pass thrown his way and that bounced off his hands.
The part of Jenkins' saga that may be the most troubling is that the 49ers don't seem to be denying the fact that he's not ready.
"He's a young guy that came out of a college system that's taken a while to grasp to the pro system," Baalke said. "It's not a work ethic issue, it's not a skill set issue. It's learning the craft at the pro level. And that's a position historically that some have adapted to more quickly than others."
What Baalke said was true. Even though it appears evident Jenkins was no where near ready to take the field in 2012, receiver can be very difficult to adjust to early on in an NFL career. So are fans and the press jumping the gun too quickly on Jenkins? Does he deserve more time to prove he belongs on an NFL roster? We'll soon find out and 2013 will go a long way in deciding Jenkins' fate. The second year pro seems completey aware of that.
"Obviously I want to contribute a lot more than I have been." said Jenkins. "So I'm going to make that happen and come back bigger, faster, stronger."
If Jenkins takes a giant leap this season, he could find himself a major piece of the team's offensive puzzle soon. Anquan Boldin only has one season left on his deal. There is no telling how effective Manningham and Williams will be coming off of their injuries and neither may be on the team past this year. That means Jenkins has a shot to solidify himself a the starter opposite Crabtree in 2014.
Even though he has an opportunity, the 49ers will not hand Jenkins anything. The team thrives on and encourages competition and have brought in another young wide receiver in Quinton Patton via the draft. Patton will compete with Jenkins for snaps not only this year but for that more primary role in 2014. If Patton excels and Jenkins continue to flounder, don't expect the 49ers to have much patience with him. This is a team ready to win now and they won't keep a player around who is not making strides.
Reagrdless of the outcome, Jenkins' situation will be an interesting one to watch in the coming months and throughout the season. Anyone not pulling for him should be, as his development will be an integral part of the 49ers moving forward at the wide receiver position.